By now the concert going public in Berlin has the routine down pat: show your vaccination status app, check in on the tracking app, show your photo ID and get your ticket scanned and – hey presto – you are in the house! No intermission, no refreshments, but live music with lots of checkerboard-style seating space. You are even allowed to remove your mask when seated, although many audience members choose to keep their mask on. One positive side effect: almost no coughing or other disturbing noises.

Víkingur Ólafsson
© Ari Magg

Víkingur Ólafsson is a familiar and welcome guest artist in Berlin (for the 2019-20 season he was artist-in-residence at the Konzerthaus) and this season he is featured in the opening weeks, with both a concert and a solo recital. With Pablo Heras-Casado conducting, Ólafsson dived straight into Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor, K491. Heras-Casado's portentous introduction into the Allegro was juxtaposed by Ólafsson's limpid touch as he developed the theme with smooth runs and carefully controlled chords. This Mozart was transparent, alert and refreshing in the dialogue between piano and orchestra. And Ólafsson – as always – adds his own special brand of sparkle to the cadenzas.

With no intermission, there was only a short pause used for changing the stage, before the second work was ready to begin: Schumann's Symphony no. 2 in D major. Schumann wrote it in Dresden in 1845, while still feeling depressed. It was premiered in Leipzig in 1846 conducted by Mendelssohn. Schumann admitted to being influenced by Beethoven's symphonies, but nonetheless he had his very own musical language and there is no mistaking his work for anyone else's.

Heras-Casado is a conductor with full body involvement – the minimalistic directives of such great late conductors as Karl Böhm or Sergiu Celibidache are not his style. Even so, the tempo of the first movement remained broad and heavy. There was the fanfare-like introduction with horns, trumpets and trombones resounding the quasi Leitmotif, which can be interpreted as a signal or as a warning, perhaps even threatening, as it reoccurs in the second and fourth movements. The Scherzo (Allegro vivace) with its two Trios resembled a driven, breathless person, appearing fragile and feverish, mirroring Schumann's mental state perhaps. The Adagio espressivo was heavy under Heras-Casado, romantic, yes, but more of the melancholic kind. By contrast, the Allegro molto vivace finale was as if a window had been thrown open, all depressing thoughts were gone, optimism returned. The orchestra responded to Heras-Casado's antics with powerful strokes and a brash apotheosis of sound.

The audience gratefully received these emotional expressions of live musicianship with warm applause.

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